An Olfactory Guide to New York City

A “smell scientist” enjoys a warm morning in New York City:

The savor of a toasted bagel had traveled on a breeze.

“It’s windy, we don’t have to move around. The smells come to us,” she said.

“A few minutes ago, I smelled the East River,” she said. The telltale scent: “briny, salty, fishy.”

Steam rising from underground brought “a really powdery, moist, kind of sweet smell.”

“It’s like the world’s biggest humidifier.”

Walking through Grand Central, she picked up on pastries and coffee, after-shave and toothpaste.

There was also “disinfectant from the trains,” “brown-black shoe polish,” and “cheap air freshener from a Town Car” coming from one man’s suit.

I used to be reflexively skeptical of outright claims of conspiracy, but in a post-Snowden, post-Cronut world, I find myself more sensitive to sinister motivations, and I have to wonder: Where is this coming from? What agenda does this serve? Who is this smell scientist working for? Is this… a stroke? I have smelled the East River’s “telltale scent.” I have smelled street steam. I have stood outside bagel shops without picking up the faintest scent of bread; I buy coffee every morning and don’t smell it until it’s in my stupid mouth. On the short walk-and-ride to the office I typically smell six distinct, real things: the raw, emetic mixture of meat and spices hitting a halal cart flat-top; ripening, stagnant puddle water; bus exhaust; body odor, sour and perfumed; trees; and depending on the morning and the time, trash. If I take an alternative subway route, I may also walk by a fish market, which smells like magnolias and freshly cut grass. (Photo from Shootingbrooklyn)